Monday, February 7, 2011

Looking for the "Egyptian Model" -- From Cairo to Cuba?

The corporate American media always rushes to "late breaking events" with an over weight flock of "similarities."  The coverage of events on Egypt is no exception.

Not surprisingly, "hot on the tails" of these proffered, profound similarities rush forth the caveats, that is, all the contradicting details which make the seconds old similarity somewhat, well, less similar.  So, as MeanMesa wiles away these cold New Mexico afternoons glued to the radio for the latest news from the Nile, the geezer's thoughts began to wander a bit.  What about all these conveniently suspicious "similarities?"  

Of course, it's no big shock that the media "paint shop" is rolling stories through at a breakneck pace, converting every barely dry Studebaker from Communist "red" to Hezbollah "green" for the next terrifying scoop.  Come on, if you have to extract 24 hours of "news" coverage per day from the "little dab" of populist action boiling out around the globe, a few tricks of the trade will keep the toothpaste commercials coming.

So, as MeanMesa, filled with angst over all these tedious and tormented  "similarities," thinks of some way to add a little something new to the mix, the reconciling advantages of age seep into the picture.  MeanMesa watched the revolution in Cuba as it was unfolding all those years ago.  More importantly perhaps, MeanMesa can recall with unsettling clarity the media treatment of those heady days in Havana.

First, however, just a few notes concerning the "before and after" conditions of the island, and, not some drooling string of historical research, but instead the casual recollections of the "story" which was being fed to domestic consumers here.

Castro, 1959 (image source)

The old US supported dictator of Cuba was a man named Batista.  He had plenty of meat handed backing from official US sources, but he also enjoyed a very fulfilling association with the US Mafia.  The thugs and gangsters from the largest US crime families were in total control of the luxury "vacation hotels" which ringed Cuba's Caribbean coast.

A frothy, fun filled Mob Disney Land (image source)
Very oily, dangerously over weight, 1950's Americans could holiday on the island where they would find plenty of beautiful Cuban girls eager to please them.  If you can imagine the "social setting" in a Baghdad nightclub when Sadam's sons were in attendance, you would be on the right track.  The island was in a perpetual state of economic catastrophe where a handful of incredibly rich, elite locals had essentially all the money and everyone else worked for them.

This calamitous inequality extended beyond the hotel circuit.  Most of the agricultural property on the island belonged to a only a few "wealthy land owners" with checkered pasts beginning in the colonial (even more colonial) earlier days.

The mobsters, already able to exert significant influence on American institutions such as the media and the Senate, actually considered Fidel Castro to be somewhat a "step up" from Batista as far as "profitability" went.  Their idea was that Fidel's agrarian roots would make him less demanding when it came to taking his "cut" of the immense vacation money flowing along the beaches.

As a consequence, the American media of the day dutifully villainized Batista while profiling Castro as a "breath of fresh air" who could "correct" the avarice of the previous government.  Make no mistake here.  Batista was famous for ripping the arms and legs from recalcitrant Cubans whenever his "bosses" on the US East Coast commanded.  The mob's problem with him was that Batista's greed was hampering the "beneficial development" of the already ossified, two class local system.

Read the entire 1959 Guardian UK story here.

Cuban dictator flees

· Rebels demand own man as President
· Havana mobs riot
  • The Guardian,
  • Article history
  • President Fulgencio Batista of Cuba, who threatened two days ago to take the field and bolster the morale of his men; changed his mind last night and abdicated.
    He stayed in Havana long enough to proclaim a great Government victory in the Battle of Santa Clara and then hopped a place for the Dominican Republic leaving behind a junta which the rebels refuse to recognise.
    He took with him his chief military aides and put his eldest son and 53 other military leaders on a plane to Jacksonville, Florida. Ten of Batista's personal secret service officers arrived today in Miami, and yet another flight carrying most of the Batista Cabinet and their families landed in New Orleans. Batista's two youngest sons had flown to Idlewild earlier on what was called a "sightseeing tour".

There were widely reported but unconfirmed stories that the rebels had captured Batista's yacht with 300 tons of gold ingots from the Cuban Treasury.  The final collapse of the old government had resulted in a traditional slaughter of particularly "bad actors" here and there around the island, but it was clear that the great majority of Cubans were firmly on the side of the revolutionaries.

Media-wise, the nobility of Castro declined almost immediately.  MeanMesa visitors will recall that January of 1959 saw reactionary elements such as the John Birch Society (founded by the same suspicious oligarchs, for example the Koch brothers, who are, even today, attempting to color the news from abroad for their interests)  as quite legitimate national voices in the struggle against the "Godless Communists" in the old Soviet Union.

When it became obvious that the new Cuban leader was not greedily anxious to continue the mobbish "sweet deals" Americans were accustomed to under the old regime, Castro became, as it was said in those days, a "Stalinist Nightmare."  Not prone to being overly embarrassed for temporarily reporting an unauthorized "up is down" story line, the 1950's American media simply switched a few adjectives and continued with new, altered headlines.

Those headlines, along with mountains of other contemporary Cold War crap, are the foundation of what many modern Americans still think about the Cubans.  Worse, they listen to Cubans living in Florida and think that they are primarily concerned with "freedom and democracy" on the island when, actually, they are mostly just anxious to regain the titles to their old hotels and plantations.

Now, the "similarities" to Egypt.
In terms of "investment portfolios," Mubarak and Batista have a lot in common.  Mr. Mubarak and his close band of cronies have already  literally looted every 16 cent Egyptian pound in the unfortunate country which was not anchored below a pyramid.  MeanMesa assumes that, although no yacht will be involved, the electronic transfer process will amount to roughly the same thing.

Mubarak's Bust will probably not be added to Abu Simbel
After all, the problem of the "missing pounds," suspiciously similar to what we are facing here at home, is at the root of the primary complaint of the protesters in Cairo's streets.  When all the "growth money" is cynically split between well connected outside enterprises and the country's executive committee, the resulting disastrous economy shouldn't surprise anyone.

But even this outrage does not squarely address the matter of the "similarities."

The exact, predominant "similarity" on the table is about the rebellion.  Oh sure, the American media has been generally positive about the nature of these insurgents, with the carefully groomed exception of the Muslim Brotherhood, of course.  However, MeanMesa is wondering about the prospects of a future demonization along the lines of what happened in Cuba. 

Our national and cultural expectations run along the lines of the flag raising at Iwo Jima, when we might better prepare ourselves for future possibilities with a closer examination of Cuba.  The horrible outrage presented in the press as Castro's nobility became more and more soiled never quite accepted the reality of the situation.  

Cuba -- like Egypt -- may not conform to our shallow American dream of unbridled democracy after the changes.  On the other hand, Egypt -- like Cuba -- may surprise us when we honestly confront the fact that conditions have improved in astonishing ways when they were finally directed by those who live there.  Perfect, of course not, but better.  

Along the way, we may also conclude that our own country is far from perfect for many of the same reasons which plagued the old Egypt or the pre-revolution Cuba.  Is anyone in the world short on oligarchs?  There are getting to be  a few extras who would probably be glad to move in a take over.  Anyone who might fins the Egyptian oligarchs acceptably palatable can move on to the next level and try out some American ones.

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